Wilfred Owen poem for the day

I just found a marvellous new source for Wilfred Owen’s war poetry, thanks to Oxford University. It lets you view multiple manuscript versions of these poems.

And today’s poem is…



Happy are men who yet before they are killed

Can let their veins run cold.

Whom no compassion fleers

Or makes their feet

Sore on the alleys cobbled with their brothers.

The front line withers,

But they are troops who fade, not flowers,

For poets’ tearful fooling:

Men, gaps for filling:

Losses, who might have fought

Longer; but no one bothers.


And some cease feeling

Even themselves or for themselves.

Dullness best solves

The tease and doubt of shelling,

And Chance’s strange arithmetic

Comes simpler than the reckoning of their shilling.

They keep no check on armies’ decimation.


Happy are these who lose imagination:

They have enough to carry with ammunition.

Their spirit drags no pack.

Their old wounds, save with cold, can not more ache.

Having seen all things red,

Their eyes are rid

Of the hurt of the colour of blood for ever.

And terror’s first constriction over,

Their hearts remain small-drawn.

Their senses in some scorching cautery of battle

Now long since ironed,

Can laugh among the dying, unconcerned.


Happy the soldier home, with not a notion

How somewhere, every dawn, some men attack,

And many sighs are drained.

Happy the lad whose mind was never trained:

His days are worth forgetting more than not.

He sings along the march

Which we march taciturn, because of dusk,

The long, forlorn, relentless trend

From larger day to huger night.


We wise, who with a thought besmirch

Blood over all our soul,

How should we see our task

But through his blunt and lashless eyes?

Alive, he is not vital overmuch;

Dying,* not mortal overmuch;

Nor sad, nor proud,

Nor curious at all.

He cannot tell

Old men’s placidity from his.


But cursed are dullards whom no cannon stuns,

That they should be as stones.

Wretched are they, and mean

With paucity that never was simplicity.

By choice they made themselves immune

To pity and whatever moans in man

Before the last sea and the hapless stars;

Whatever mourns when many leave these shores;

Whatever shares

The eternal reciprocity of tears.

Manuscript Sources

Fasc T, f328r
Fasc T, f329r
Fasc T, f330r
Fasc T, f328v
MS 43720, f19a
MS 43720, f20a

* In the original text taken from the Oxford website, this was written “Drying”. But sense and a tiny bit of detective work in the ms. sources (see Comments) indicate alike that it should be “Dying”.

2 thoughts on “Wilfred Owen poem for the day”

  1. First — thank you. that’s completely wonderful, and an antidote to newspapers. Second, I think there may be a typo — shouldn’t “Drying” be “dying” in verse 5, line 6?

  2. Andrew, it looks as though you might be right. I “lifted” the whole text, plus the manuscript versions at the bottom of it, from the Oxford University website linked to there… I just skimmed quickly through the fourth of the mss., which indicates you are right. I’ll amend the post. Thanks!

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